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by Miriam English
I was yanked out of sleep by David's urgent voice on my comms. "Adele! We have an emergency. Another assassin has showed up at Arrivals."
I sat up and croaked. "I'm on my way. Delay him."
Looking around, I was surprised to see Brenda and I were on the bed. When had we managed to get in here from the living room floor? Brenda was still asleep -- like I should be. Happiness charged me when I looked at her and I felt an almost overwhelming need to caress her gorgeous face. It would be wrong to wake her though. Let her sleep.
I gently distentangled our legs, eased off the bed, and padded to the bathroom. My body tried to distract me, still tingling with memories of last night.
I hopped into the shower and put a quick call through to Meg to ask
her about the new android. She answered, "Even more armored than the
last, incredibly powerful, lots of built-in guns and blades, small
brain, and, get this, his name is Mort. I expect it's meant as a pun on
morte -- death -- instead of the normal human name Mortimer. What
juvenile sociopath designs and names these things?" I thanked her and
After the minimal shower, feeling fresher and more alert, I threw on some clothes, ran out of my apartment, and down the corridor toward the tubes in long, loping strides.
I called David on comms, but before I could say anything he said, "Adele, we tried to get him to wait, but he completely ignored us and left. We're tracking him on the video feeds. Sending it to you now."
A small, stylised map and red dot overlaid on a corner of my vision and video feed from the corridor was put in another corner. It showed a wide, thickset, hulk of an android, like a caricature of a person. He plodded down the corridor from Arrivals.
I asked David, "Do we have any idea where he's headed?"
"Directly to Priyanka's location. I have no clue how he knows where she is."
"Thanks David." I kicked myself that I didn't do my job properly
when I had the chance to ask Marcus what he meant when he said he knew
from day one where Priyanka was. I'd assumed that he'd simply listened
to all the security comms and got the location from them.
Reaching the tubes, I got into a pod and called Henna. "Henna, we
have an emergency. I need to talk to Marcus, but can't connect to him
directly. Can you get him to call me? We may need him for that
bodyguard job he talked about."
"He's not here. He left in a hurry a few minutes ago." Henna sounded worried.
"Get him to contact me as soon as you can. Thanks."
The pod whisked me to the Arrivals station and I leapt out and hit the floor running in the direction of the new assassin. However, before I could see him, the video feed showed Marcus walking up to him. The new assassin slowed and stopped. Instead of challenging him Marcus shook hands and was talking with him. I couldn't make out what was being said against all the other morning noises of conversations, laughter, music, and clink of cups and cutlery from a café. Marcus put his arm around Mort and they continued together toward Priyanka's location.
Connecting with David, I asked, "David, can you send that AV feed to someone to clean up? I couldn't work out what Marcus and Mort were saying."
"Already sent. It should be back shortly. Luckily we had two feeds from different points and should be able to use it to separate out -- Ah! It's back," and he sent it to me.
Marcus said, "Mort. Good to see you. What are you doing off Earth?"
Mort answered in a flat voice, "Marcus. They sent me to finish your job."
"They lied to us Mort. It's really sweet here and the City will let you stay if you don't kill the girl."
Mort immediately, unemotionally, replied, "Must follow orders."
"Oh man! You'll screw everything up if you do that. I don't want to go back to Earth. I've got an amazing girlfriend and everything."
"Must follow orders. If not, they'll send someone to destroy us too."
Marcus had groaned. "Orders don't apply here. This isn't Earth. If we help the City they'll help protect us. This place is really great.You don't have to kill people here."
"But I like to kill. It's fun."
Marcus sighed, "Oh yeah. I forgot the creeps on Earth wired you up that way. Top of the class on sadism. Never saw the point myself. Do a clean kill, get out quick, is what I always thought. Sticking around to do more slaughter always seemed like it seriously compromised your position."
Marcus put his arm around Mort's shoulders and they continued down the corridor. "Listen, I have an idea how we can both get what we want. Have you heard of Barsoom City on Mars? If you don't kill this girl then I can get the City to let us leave for Mars. Earth won't chase us that far out."
"No. I want to kill her. Been a long time since I had some fun."
"I know what you mean, but think about it. You kill her and go back to Earth, what happens then? They let you kill someone, maybe six times a year, if you're lucky. Where's the fun in that?"
Mort frowned, looked like he was pondering it.
Marcus continued, "But if you don't kill this girl--"
"I want to kill her!"
"I know, I know, but hear me out. If you don't kill her, then the City will let us leave, and on Mars there's about a hundred thousand colonists. That means you can kill a person every day for the next two hundred and seventy years. Actually, more than that because they breed. You would never run out of fun."
Mort stopped walking and turned to look at Marcus. The wheels in his head seemed to turn awfully slowly. Then, gradually, the scariest smile crept over his face. It looked like a normal, pleasant smile. What made it creepy was the thought that was forming behind those eyes.
Marcus sighed with relief, "Good. Wait here. Don't hurt anybody and I'll organise our trip to Mars. Whatever you do, don't hurt anybody. If you do we'll have to go back to Earth and no fun for either of us." Then Marcus turned and strode down the corridor towards Arrivals, towards me.
I could see him now. He was approaching rapidly. When close enough, he nodded to me and asked, "Can you get everybody quietly cleared from this corridor Adele? No running or noise. I don't want any accidents with my low-impulse-control friend." Then he continued on past.
David had been listening and passed the message on to all the security staff in the area. We went door to door, getting everybody to evacuate with as little fuss as possible, as fast as we could.
Mort stood, impassive, in the middle of the corridor watching, only his eyes moving. Up close he looked even more powerful. Heaven knew what he was capable of.
What kind of warped mind creates a person like him? Oh yeah. The
same kind of mind that drops nuclear weapons on two cities full of men,
women, and children. The same kind of mind that develops mustard gas.
The same kind of mind that makes small bomblets that blow glass beads
out laterally at the average Vietnamese head height -- glass because
it's hard for surgeons to remove. The same kind of mind that convinces a child to be a suicide bomber.
The same kind of mind that lays land mines that kill and maim women and
children for decades to come. The same kind of mind that exterminates
or imprisons people because of their race or their sexuality.
I shook my head. It was also the same kind of mind that created the delightful film Amelie, that composes sweet music, that paints beautiful pictures, that cares for little children, that built this City.
I hurried to where I expected Marcus had gone: Departures.
I found him organising passage on a small ferry to Mars. The woman at the counter had just brought up a form image on the desktop and asked him to sign it. As I approached, he said, without looking up, "Hello Adele." He was obviously linked into the video feed and had been watching my progress.
My security training let me notice that he had positioned himself so
the video feed couldn't see the document image. When I was close enough
he wrote on the document,
fall into sun
delete this doc
I said, "Marcus, you've signed in the wrong spot." I looked at the
woman behind the counter. "Could you refresh the form please?"
The scribbled words disappeared from the document image, he signed
it properly, and the desktop was blank again. I had noticed that the
document had stated that the ferry would be ready to leave in about an
Marcus turned to me. "Tell Henna she's the best thing to ever
happen to me. I wasn't alive till I met her. Send my best to Brenda,
and..." he smiled and shook hands with me, "thank you Adele."
A lump formed in my throat. I nodded. "Why don't you stay? You make a great bodyguard."
Marcus got a slightly panicked look and shook his head. "I have to go. It's the only way." After a moment's pause he said, "I'll go get Mort."
I asked the woman if she could pass on the message to all the other staff to evacuate the Departures area, then I called David and got several security staff to cordon off the area. Only Marcus and Mort were to be allowed in.
While this was being done I brought up the latest map of areas where Farne had got Mackey to fake the video feeds. There was a corridor several minutes run from here so I took off at full run and sent a call to Henna, Paul, and several more security staff and tech geeks to meet me in that address. Racing down the corridor I had to concentrate well ahead to avoid people. Changing direction when you're moving fast is tricky. I remembered on our visit to Earth when I needed to run to a meeting, how strange it had felt, having the traction to easily avoid obstacles at a fair speed. It was like being glued to the floor.
On the way I had to jump over a few people, narrowly avoided colliding with an old couple as they came out of a door, and had to push off some fern beds to jump sideways and bounce off the wall in order to miss a child who ran into the corridor playing chase with his toy ostrich.
Eventually, panting, I got there without mishap, and beckoned a shop
owner out into the corridor, safe from the shop's video feed. Between
gasps for breath, I asked him if he chanced to have some paper and a
pencil. It was to be expected that he didn't, they're not often used
these days, so I got him to quickly replicate a few small sheets and a
pencil for me and to not charge them please. I didn't want a traceable
record in the City database; a life may depend upon it. He obviously
thought that was an odd request, but was happy to help.
The other people I'd called for started to get here, and presently the shop owner returned with paper and pencil. I thanked him gratefully and he returned to his shop.
When Henna arrived I hugged her, looked around the group, and decided there were enough of us here to begin.
"Firstly, maintain comms silence from now on please. I've chosen this spot because the video feed here doesn't work, so we can't be monitored. A second assassin android has been sent to the City and is probably monitoring all the comm channels, particularly ours. This android has severely limited intelligence and has been designed to enjoy inflicting pain and death. It would appear that he can't be turned around. He is far more powerful than Marcus Hildebrand and much better armored. Marcus has convinced this other android to go with him to Mars, and managed to get a message to me that he wanted the ship to be sabotaged so that it would fall into the sun."
Henna gasped and put both her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide.
I looked around at the group and said, "I've asked you all here for three purposes. Firstly, I want someone to sabotage the ship's navigation system. Secondly, I want us to work out a way for Marcus to escape the ship while in flight that won't tip off the other android. Thirdly," I looked at Henna, "I want Henna to give a message about his escape route to Marcus in a way that only she could."
She tilted her head to the side in puzzlement. I smiled, held up the paper. "You'll pass a note to him in your goodbye kiss."
Looking around the group again I told them the ship was due to leave in an hour so we needed to get cracking.
Paul arrived soon after and I explained the situation to him. He had some ideas about disabling the ship. He said, "Making the ship fall into the sun is easy. All we have to do is slow it down and the sun's gravity will do the rest. Best way to slow it is to turn the ship around so that it is travelling backwards, and use the main thrusters to counter forward movement. If we time it right we can use that second burn to deplete the fuel, so that even if this android somehow fixes the navigation controls there is no way to move."
He looked at me and said, "It would be even easier to crash it on Mars. Is there some reason why that isn't an option?"
I answered, "This android is incredibly well armored. He is so dangerous that even a slight chance of him surviving is unacceptable."
Henna shook her head, "This is so weird. We are deliberately planning the death of someone."
I had been thinking the same thing, but had pushed it to the back of my mind. It unsettled me that it reminded me of what people have been able to do all through history to rationalise murder. "This someone is looking forward to being able to kill people every day for the next couple of hundred years. He takes great pleasure in causing death and pain. From what I can see we are trading one death to save hundreds or thousands. I know it doesn't make it right, but unless anybody has another way..."
I looked around. Henna looked unhappy and Paul and most of the others were absorbed in thought. "Okay, next point is Marcus' escape route. Any ideas? The ferry is sized below the legal limit for lifeboats, so I thought we'd ensure a Marcus-sized spacesuit was inside the ship for him. He uses it to leave the ferry, and someone picks him up in a second ship."
Paul pondered this. "Do we know what weaponry this android has?"
"Meg said he has lots of guns and blades built into him." I replied.
Rubbing his forehead, Paul said, "It might be too dangerous for someone to come in close to the ferry to pick up Marcus. We need to get him away from the ship to a good distance, fast."
Someone else suggested, "Rocket pack?"
One of the techs shook his head. "Their name makes them sound fast, but they're strictly low power."
Paul asked, "Could a small runabout be tethered to the side?"
One of the other techs answered, "Sure. We have to adjust for weight being off center in the ferry's navigation, but I don't see a problem with that. We need navigation to be accurate because we don't want to send the ferry in a big circle to crash back onto the Moon."
Another tech answered, "We have cargo webbing that would do the trick. It's a thick net with latches for fastening goods down inside ship cargo holds. It's easily strong enough to hold a runabout. And the latches are made to undo quickly and easily."
Henna looked at me. "I want to be in the pick-up ship. I know it can be remotely operated, but that involves small time lags that make things more difficult. It's too dangerous for a human, and I want to be the one to see him safe. "
I smiled at Henna then turned to the group, "Now, who can fix the ferry's navigation."
Two of the techs volunteered.
"Thanks, guys. Now the runabout and tethering it to the ferry?"
Paul added, "And the spacesuit."
I volunteered, "I can get the Marcus-sized spacesuit."
One of the security guys said he'd get the runabout and one of the techs knew how to organise the cargo webbing. I thanked them and the rest of the group. Before we went our ways I reminded everyone, "Remember, comm silence is imperative, and don't speak of this to anyone. This android can probably tap into all the video feeds. Everybody, go to it."
Everything was ready by launch time. Henna and I met Marcus and Mort in the Departure lounge. Marcus introduced her as his girlfriend. Mort gave no reaction other than for his eyes to look Henna up and down, which made me terribly uneasy.
I shook Marcus' hand. "All the best, Mr Invincible."
He grinned at that.
Henna hugged him and pulled him down for a kiss. He showed no indication of having received the note, smiled gently at Henna, and walked toward the exit with the impassive Mort.
Just at that point, a call came through on the security comm that
Farne had been pinpointed. Marcus paused with the doors open, looked
back, and said to us, "Well that was bloody bad timing. I wanted to be
here for this." He stood there for a few moments before sighing and
saying, "Oh well, I'm sure you folks can handle it." And he left.
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